On Sunday the 2nd of February, 2020, 32 year old Novak Djokovic captured his 8th Australian Open singles title. This monumental feat lifted him far above his predecessors & contemporaries in terms of his record at Melbourne Park, and elevated his overall grand slam haul to 17. Djokovic now sits just 2 behind Rafael Nadal and 3 behind Roger Federer on the Grand Slam leaderboard.
What a Time To Be Alive!
The post 2000- tennis fan has been treated to a phenomenal period in tennis history, where the 3 greatest players of all time have co-existed. If you ask most tennis pundits, fans and players who the best player of all time is, you usually get a singular answer – Roger Federer. He is not only the man that sits atop the Everest of men’s tennis, Federer is also a man of the people. His immense popularity is actually growing as the years advance, and his picturesque game-style truly embodies the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) status bestowed upon fellow GOAT’s in other sports.
The 38 year old has an effortless game which combines power, fluidity, strength and character. Many thought when Federer won his 20th Slam at the 2018 Australian Open, the task was too great for Rafa and Nole to overtake. And sitting 2 Championship points up, on serve against Djokovic at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships, you’d have thought 21 would have sealed the deal. Herein lies the true greatness of Novak Djokovic – he wants it more. He saved those points, and won that Final.
This is not a knock on Federer, or Nadal, or any of the other greats of the game of tennis. But Novak Djokovic wants to be the best, and he wants it more than any of them. And I think he has always shown that. Tennis players are always confident people – you have to think you are the best to be the best. And there’s no more lonely and isolated place in the world of sport than the tennis court. But Novak’s arrogance has always seemed to irk the tennis community – particularly the fans – and despite his tremendous success he has never been a popular player on tour.
It’s actually quite the opposite. In fact, Novak has always been the villian in any heavyweight matchup. His career long gamesmanship is a significant reason, with Novak often resembling an asthmatic patient on the brink of collapse when he is down on the scoreline. He will then miraculously come back and start playing superhuman tennis – a trend that was even on show as recently as the final of the 2020 Australian Open.
Building a Case for GOAT
If Federer’s game is characterised by his effortlessness & elegance, then Rafa’s game is characterised by unbelievable athleticism and power, and Djokovic’s game is characterised by his unbelievable movement and consistency. Under pressure, in big moments, on championship points, Nole just doesn’t miss. He turns into a brick wall and refuses to give an inch. Despite improving his game vastly by adding a heavier second serve, a much bigger forehand and honing his volleys over the span of his career, his game style is still characterised by those features. While not as beautiful to watch as Federer’s game, it is incredibly effective. He is almost a human cheat code for tennis. And this has meant that he actually has a winning record over both Federer and Nadal. He is 27-23 against Federer (11-6 in Slams & 13-6 in Finals). He is 29-26 over Nadal (15-11 in Finals).
So we’re talking about a guy that has a winning record overall and in finals over the 2 men who are supposedly ahead of him as the GOAT? Hmm. I’ll take it a step further – Djokovic had possibly the single greatest year of any tennis player in history. I personally rank it higher than anything any other player has done, purely because of the opposition (Federer & Nadal) that he had to deal with. In 2011, Djokovic did this:
- Season Record: 70 wins 6 losses
- 41 match winning streak
- Went 10 wins 1 loss against Federer & Nadal
- Captured Australian Open, Wimbledon & US Open
- Captured 10 titles
Who will catch Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slams – Djokovic or Nadal? I think the answer is fairly straightforward – both. I think both Djokovic and Nadal will surpass Federer’s tally and the battle for GOAT will actually be between them in the coming years. Despite the public’s affinity for Roger Federer, both Novak and Nadal have a winning record against him. This, coupled with their age, points to the high likelihood they will surpass him.
Despite Nadal’s impeccable record at Roland Garros, Djokovic’s ability to win on slow hard courts puts him in good stead to win the US Open and Australian Open consistently in the coming years. He has also shown a great affinity for Wimbledon, where he is the defending champion. I think the battle for GOAT status becomes a question of when, not if, Nadal and Djokovic pass Roger Federer. From there, I think Novak’s winning record over both of them, coupled with the high likelihood he finishes with the most Grand Slams, means he will more than likely become the Greatest Male Tennis Player of All Time.